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Why Paralegals Need to Know about Small Firms before Applying for a Job

published February 21, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
Published By
( 14 votes, average: 4.3 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
The small and midsize firm does not generally have the fixed corporate policies of large firms. It is here that you, as a future paralegal, will discover the widest range of existing attitudes and philosophies about paralegal roles. One firm will value its paralegals because they are heavily used in client contact, others use their paralegals in case management. Still others use their paralegals in a much broader way, treating them not unlike paralegals in a sole proprietorship. In any case, the challenge is to understand as early as possible how paralegals are utilized so that you can adjust your presentation to fit the need.

Each Firm Is Different

You should do as much as you can at whatever stage you find yourself to discover as much as you can about the firm you are pursuing. If the firm is small and has been small for years, it might have a legal administrator/manager who is a spouse of one of the partners. It might have a group of partners who have been together for years and only hire associates to get them started, offering little chance of partnership. This kind of firm could be good for paralegal utilization and could have a very influential manager. Other configurations of firms might have different meanings, but hopefully all of your information goes to one goal: Filling in an incomplete picture so you can make intelligent moves toward your ultimate hiring.

Small firms have definite personalities. lifestyle, politics and socio-economics could fall into very clear patterns. A senior partner/owner in a small firm has a much more powerful impact on the personality and atmosphere of a place than one in a large firm. The impact of personality and style is very strong in a small setting.

Questions you can ask that will help you learn quickly would be:
  • Is this a new firm or an older firm?
  • Is the firm's partnership made up of younger, middle-aged, or older individuals?
  • Do lifestyle and politics seem to be very important to this firm
  • What is the makeup of the firm and staff (culture, gender, age, etc.)?
  • What do their practice area and client picture tell me about the firm and how to become a part of it?
  • Where is this firm located? What does that tell me? Is this a suburban, urban, or rural firm? How will those factors affect the political terrain, the firm personality, and the attitude toward paralegals?
  • Once I have a picture of this firm and get an idea of how they utilize their paralegals, what will I emphasize in my letters, networking, telephoning, and interviewing?

The Paralegal Role in Small and Midsize Firms

While sole practitioners utilize paralegals in the way they feel they "have to in order to keep their practice going" the small and mid-sized firms can differ radically from each other, based upon attorney attitudes, professional habits, practice area, and the attorney/paralegal ratio. Among the attorneys you may encounter:
  1. those who are just now acknowledging that paralegals are out there and doing something special
  2. those who believe paralegals are "glorified secretaries"
  3. those who use paralegals for all office-support functions
  4. those who hold paralegals in high esteem and are very mindful of the workload and kind of work paralegals do
  5. those who believe in the profitability of paralegals and keep their attorney/paralegal ratio at such a level as to put much of the weight of their practice on the paralegal function
  6. those who attempt to keep their valued paralegals as "virtual partners" by rewarding them with a full array of benefits, bonuses, and high wages

As the paralegal profession grows and makes gains in nontraditional and traditional areas alike, there is a gradual lessening of old, entrenched attitudes and an increasing growth of enlightened attitudes. Still, be forewarned that in your experience you can find every attitude toward paralegals as you go through your career.

Summary: Issues to consider when facing a small firm

Understand the organizational structure, particularly:
  • the contact person whom you must discover and communicate with
  • the possibility of networking with an associate, partner, or other paralegal in the office
  • the usefulness of thank you notes, cover letters, and follow-up phone calls Learn the individual terrain of the particular firm you are pursuing and its specific personality by:
  • asking meaningful and specific questions about the firm
  • understanding how paralegal utilization varies in these firms de-pending on their personality and style and degree of sophistication, and endeavor to fit that particular mold

Honor the Organizational Structure of the Firm

If networking is the source of jobs that are hard to find, but easier to get, then part of the work you must do when you network is to learn the political terrain of the firm and understand its organizational structure as you begin networking.

Suppose you have interviewed with a young partner at a small firm. She seems to like you and wants you to interview with others. You may have an ally in this partner, but you still have to go through the formal interview process. It would be quite helpful to write to the legal administrator/office manager early on in the process, so that if the partner mentions your name in a meeting or in passing the administrator will know who you are. Simply be ready to walk through each step of the process, mindful that each person with whom you speak has an important role to play in your hiring.

Many people have used a networking contact profitably and then interviewed with an "administrator" who disqualified them. Often it is because proper "respect" for the administrator was not shown in the process. When a person is given charge of the hiring process, it is all-important for you-the approaching applicant-to address that interview with as much consideration as you would a partner's interview.

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

More about Harrison

About LawCrossing

LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit

published February 21, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 14 votes, average: 4.3 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.